You Can Now Listen To A Song That Hasn't Been Played For 1,000 Years


Tom Hale

Senior Journalist

clockApr 25 2016, 18:28 UTC
1200 You Can Now Listen To A Song That Hasn't Been Played For 1,000 Years
Cambridge University Library

After two decades of work, a song that has remained in obscurity for 1,000 years has been pieced back together and is now available for you to listen to.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge have reconstructed songs from a medieval musical, which is based on the Roman philosopher Boethius's magnum opus "The Consolation of Philosophy." The original work was written by Boethius's in the 6th century during his imprisonment, shortly before his execution for treason, and is considered to be one of his great masterpieces.


So why has the ancient song stayed unheard for all these years? Musicians in the Middle Ages used neumes, an early form of musical notation that expresses melodic outlines, instead of the musical notes we use today. This makes the “translation” of the pieces extremely hard for modern musicians.

“Neumes indicate melodic direction and details of vocal delivery without specifying every pitch and this poses a major problem… We know the contours of the melodies and many details about how they were sung, but not the precise pitches that made up the tunes,” Dr. Sam Barrett of Cambridge University, who worked on the project, said in a statement.

However, researchers managed to rediscover an 11th century manuscript that was lost over 142 years ago. This “musical Rosetta Stone” was used by the team to piece together an estimated 80 to 90 percent of the original piece.

A group of musicians performed the full portion of the reconstructed musical during a performance on Saturday, April 23, but you can listen to an excerpt from the song below.

[H/T: Cambridge University and Gizmodo]

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